The Sound Of Silence
Nov 21, 2014 10:25AM
By City Journals Staff
By City Councilmember Steve Barnes
I always enjoy the opportunity to write about the latest news in our city every five months or so. This month I’d like to share my thoughts with you about some things that may concern you as a resident of South Jordan.
It has been made increasingly difficult over the last 11 months for South Jordan residents to have their voices heard and take part in the “Public Comment” portion of our meetings. Until this year, to speak during the Public Comment portion of a City Council meeting the only thing required was to step up to the microphone and state your name and address.
Occasionally throughout the year there were arbitrary time limits imposed on the amount of time that would be allotted to Public Comment. The process was later changed, requiring participants to fill out a “comment card” that among other things, required a description of the nature of their comments.
Finally, during the Public Comment portion of the Oct. 7 meeting an additional requirement was randomly imposed which mandated that comment cards had to be submitted before the beginning of Public Comment.
This last requirement imposed on the public is also very concerning to me. Now, upon hearing your neighbor share an opinion, you will not have the opportunity to immediately respond to this comment with a supporting or opposing view. All of the measures above have literally restricted participation and resulted in residents not being allowed to speak.
I strongly oppose these practices. When South Jordan residents take the time out of their busy lives and make arrangements to attend a City Council meeting to voice their views on issues that they are passionate about, they deserve to have their turn to speak. They do not deserve to be silenced due to arbitrary restrictions, opposing points of view, or the Council’s desire to go home earlier.
One particularly large issue that has come up this year has been the discussion of whether or not to develop the city-owned park, Mulligan’s Golf and Games. There has been a lot of one-sided information put out lately by the mayor and council in favor of developing Mulligan’s. I am disturbed by the fact that not only are other points of view on this issue being actively silenced, they are also being mocked, belittled, and marginalized. I have personally witnessed South Jordan residents with opposing views being compared in a public forum to “Bill Clinton lying about the Monica Lewinsky affair,” or written off as being part of a vocal minority, or even just being called unintelligent.
South Jordan residents deserve better treatment than this from those that they elected to represent them. There is simply NO excuse for these actions.
In spite of the Public Comment process becoming more restricted, and a climate of condescension being created over the last several months, the mayor recently sent each household a letter saying that YOU get to decide the fate of Mulligan’s. If that truly were the case, we would have mailed you a ballot instead of a biased letter. The fact is, only 500 residents of the city will have the opportunity to participate in the city-commissioned survey.
I have personally been advocating for several months to send out an “unofficial ballot” or survey to all South Jordan residents. (State law does not allow for city councils to put certain issues on an official ballot) Unfortunately, instead of sending out an “unofficial ballot” to the entire city, the decision was made, without a council vote, to send out a one-sided and biased letter, which I feel contaminates the entire survey process.
The reasoning given by those who agree with the mayor in this process state that the survey of 500 residents will yield a more “scientific result.” This councilman believes that we don’t live in a “scientific survey-ocracy” if I can coin that term. We live in a democratic republic which gives every qualifying resident who would like to participate the opportunity to have their voice heard.
I apologize for not writing a more positive article about the other great things that are coming up in the holiday season. I feel, however, that it is important that I share my thoughts with you on these issues and invite you to advocate with me for a different process. It is not too late to send a survey to every household. It is not too late to ask that Public Comment in our meetings be restored to what it used to be. It is okay to make some mistakes along the way as long as we can recognize them, fix them, and end up in a better place. I want the people of South Jordan to be heard and not be represented by “The Sound of Silence.”